The government of Egypt has launched a scathing attack on Northampton Borough Council over its controversial decision to sell the statue of Sekhemka last year for £15.76 million.
An Egyptian minister described the sale of the 4,500-year-old artefact as “an indelible stain” on its reputation and a “moral crime”.
The Sekhemka funerary monument was sold at a Christie’s auction in July 2014, to an as yet unnamed Qatari millionaire, to fund an extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.
But the object was blocked from being exported by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) earlier this year as it was believed to be one of the finest examples of its kind.
That export ban was to allow any potential UK buyers to put forward a “serious” bid to keep it in the country. This was due to run out on July 29 but DCMS later extended the embargo until August 28.
At a press conference in Cairo on Saturday, Mamdouh El-Damaty, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, launched a crowdfunding campaign and urged Egyptian expats in the UK to raise enough money to buy the ancient statue.
He told reporters the Egyptian government had “halted all dealings” with Northampton Museum over its “unethical role” in the sale of the statue,
According to the Cairo Post, Mr El-Damaty also said: “The sale of the statue is an indelible stain on the museum’s reputation and is a moral crime against world heritage in general and the Egyptian heritage in particular.”
In response to Mr El-Damaty’s comments, a spokesperson for Northampton Borough Council said today (Monday) that it was unaware that it had any “dealings” with the Egyptian government, adding: “This is a matter for the current owner of the statue and the government.”
Measuring 30 inches high, the painted limestone statue belonged to an ancient Egyptian court official and dates from 2400 BC to 2300 BC. It was excavated from an archaeological site near the Giza Pyramids by the second Marquis of Northampton.
The Save Sekhemka Action Group, which is based in Northampton and fought hard to keep the item from being sold, is supporting calls made by a fellow action group in Cairo for the export ban to be extended until March 2016.
Academics and Egyptologists are attempting to mount a legal case in the Egyptian courts, appealing to UNESCO and starting a petition to halt the sale.